From Benton Harbor, Michigan to Clichy-sous-Bois, France: The International Oppression of Youth of Color (2005)

As a policy of atomizing the Nation of Afrikans in Amerika, the U.S ruling class has cultivated a sense of isolation from the rest of the Afrikan world. The reason behind this policy is to keep us from seeing ourselves as part of Afrika’s people around the world, a common people suffering common conditions of oppression and exploitation at the hands of a single system of imperialism.

Close scrutiny of the recent revolt of Afrikan and Arab youth in Clichy-soius-Bois, and across Europe, demonstrates the reality of a common condition of oppression in Europe and the U.S. for people of color. The conditions that sparked the youth uprising in France mirror those that we face in Amerika, an example being those that sparked the 2002 Black uprising in Benton Harbor, Michigan.

Benton Harbor is a small, Black, working class town with a history of racist oppression by the local police and judicial system. Police chases, beatings, shootings and false arrests in Benton Harbor had taken their toll on the Black people of Benton Harbor, where Black children and youth were regularly killed by the police at a rate 14 to 28 percent higher than the national average.

Benton Harbor had gone from a town with a vibrant economy to one of dire poverty in just a few short decades. This was affected by its relationship with the predominantly white town of Saint Joseph’s across the river. Most of the property in Benton Harbor is owned by residents of St. Joseph’s, and most of the major job and revenue generating opportunities were taken out of Benton Harbor and moved to St. Joseph’s, (the hospital, courthouse, water department, etc.), leaving the Black town without jobs or basic infrastructure and its people owning nothing.

The police department, (located in St. Joseph’s), is 99% white. The jail is situated so that it is the first building you see upon crossing the river from Benton Harbor into St. Joseph’s.

The routine brutality suffered by the Black residents of Benton Harbor psychologically conditioned them to fear police stops. It was the death of a fleeing young Black motorcyclist named Terrance Shern, during a police chase, which ignited the uprising in Benton Harbor. Eyewitnesses reported seeing one police car driving closely behind Shern and bumping into his bike’s tires, while another police car drove him off the road and into an abandoned house. The next day, police attempted to break up a vigil being held by the youth’s family, which incited anger and the ensuing two days and nights of street battles with the police.

Much like Benton Harbor, and the U.S. inner cities in general, Clichy-sous-Bois, France, (where the youth uprising that spread to over 400 European cities and towns in less than two weeks began), is a small working class ghetto of single family public housing units isolated from France’s metropolitan areas. The ghetto’s residents are mostly Afrikans and Arabs lacking regular jobs and forced to pay high rents, which leaves them in a cycle of poverty. The town doesn’t even have a cinema or library.

For Clichy’s youth, police brutality, harassment and humiliation are routine. Many abuses occur during the frequent raids of homes as police claim to be looking for “illegal immigrant” squatters to deport. Carloads of police suddenly swarm young men out walking, under the pretext of making “identity checks.” As in Benton Harbor, Clichy’s youth have a reasonable fear of police stops. The French Interior Minister, Nicolas Sarkozy, publicly described the residents of these ethnic working class ghettos as “scum” and “filth” to be “scoured with industrial cleaner.”

The uprising, which began on October 27, 2005, was sparked by the deaths of two teenage boys resulting from their fleeing from and being chased by the police. The two teens, Buena Traore and Zyed Benna, fled from police who chased them into an electric power substation, where they were electrocuted to death. Weary of the repression by the French police, who were in Sarkozy’s words, “waging a war without mercy” against the “riffraff” of the public housing ghettos, the Afrikan and Arab youth rose up.

The youth revolt took the form of burning thousands of cars, including police cars, and spread to other cities where poor Afrikan and Arab people are concentrated and oppressed, including in Germany and Belgium. These disempowered youth, like those in the Amerikan cities, have endured the humiliation of poverty, racism, and official oppression all their young lives. But inside there is a burning desire for liberation.

The mainstream imperialist media, as in all cases of such uprisings of the oppressed, have attempted to conceal, misrepresent and minimalize the real causes of the uprising and vilify the participants. The same demonizations were used to discredit the urban Black uprisings that swept across the U.S. from 1964 to 1968 in response to poverty, racism and police brutality. In the wake of the 1960s rebellions, multitudes of government-funded studies were conducted which demonized our people and proposed to respond with a war against youth of color under which the prison-industrial complex was born as a mechanism to “restore order” and deplete and contain the Black Nation within Amerika. As H.R. Haldeman, Nixon’s top aide, noted in 1969 in his now published diary: “Nixon emphasized that you have to face the fact that the problem is really the blacks. The key is to devise a system that recognizes this while not appearing to.”

However, white riots against Blacks in Amerika have never been depicted as depraved in the same way that Black riots against racist oppression and systematic – indeed government sanctioned – discrimination, repression and abuse have been. In fact, government and police officials often incited and participated in these riots in which Black communities were overrun by rampaging mobs of armed whites who indiscriminately beat up, maimed and killed innocent Black men, wimyn and children, such as the 1863 NYC Draft Riot, the New York Riot of 1900, the 26 white riots that occurred during the “Red Summer” of 1919, and the innumerable lynchings that took place throughout the 19th and most of the 20th Centuries in Amerika.

Because the oppression and super exploitation of people of color is the norm in the imperialist countries, and the youth are particularly targeted for police repression, we must recognize the need for intercommunal (multi-ethnic) and Pan-Afrikan unity to resist this oppression and to struggle to put an end to the imperialist (monopoly capitalist) system and replace it with People’s Power.

The New Afrikan Black Panther Party-Prison Chapter (NABPP-PC) supports the righteous rebellion of the Afrikan and Arab youth in Europe against their oppression, and we call upon them to do more than vent their anger. We call upon them to form mass organizations to serve their people and defend their communities and to take up the principles of “Pantherism” to form a vanguard party to lead their struggle and link it to that of the New Afrikan and oppressed people of color around the world.

We understand that monopoly capitalism, which thrives upon the super exploitation of Third World people, both inside the imperialist countries and the neo-colonial countries of the Third World, cannot meet the needs or provide for the security of our people. We must do this ourselves by creating community-based People’s Power. We must organize ourselves and link our struggles with those of the advanced detachments of the international proletariat IN ALL COUNTRIES to form a revolutionary United Front Against Imperialism.



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